Chuck Schumer Blasts GOP For 'Trying to Disenfranchise' Voters in Senate Hearing: 'Shame On Them'

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused the GOP of "trying to disenfranchise" voters during Tuesday's Senate Rules Committee hearing as Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky attacked the Democrats' voting rights legislation known as the For the People Act.

The bill would make the largest changes to U.S. elections in a generation, with McConnell criticizing it as a "partisan power grab," and it comes as states such as Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Texas under Republican control have been pushing new voting restrictions.

"Instead of doing what you should be doing when you lose an election in a democracy, attempting to win over those voters in the next election, Republicans instead are trying to disenfranchise those voters. Shame on them!" Schumer said.

The bill was passed by the House in early March and would establish automatic voter registration nationwide, among other changes. President Joe Biden has praised the bill and said it would "restore the soul of America" since it would provide equal access to voting.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on S.1, For the People Act, legislation that would overhaul voting rights and election oversight, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2021. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The bill would touch on almost every aspect of the electoral process. Democrats say the changes are even more important now as Republican-controlled states impose new voting restrictions after the divisive 2020 election.

Yet it's a motivating issue for Republicans, too, with McConnell so determined to stop Democrats that he's personally arguing against the measure, a rare role for a party leader that shows the extent to which Republicans are prepared to fight.

Republicans will offer scores of amendments to highlight aspects of the bill they believe are unpopular, including the creation of a public financing system for political campaigns, an overhaul of the federal agency that polices elections and dozens of provisions that would dictate how states conduct their elections.

"We should be finding ways to rebuild trust, not destroy it further," McConnell told the Senate Rules Committee, pointing to the bitterly contested outcomes of the past two presidential elections. "But that's exactly what a partisan power grab would guarantee. And that's what (this bill) is all about."

New voting rules imposed by Republican-controlled states are spurred by former President Donald Trump's false claims about election fraud after his 2020 loss.

Democrats are on defense, having been unable to halt the onslaught of new state rules that will take months or years to litigate in court. That leaves passage of legislation through Congress as one of the few remaining options to counteract the GOP efforts.

"These bills moving in state capitals across America are not empty threats, they are real efforts to stop people from voting," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee.

But Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the panel, predicted the bill, if passed, would yield an "unmitigated disaster" in future elections where "chaos will reign."

Republicans argue the new state rules are needed to clamp down on mail ballots and other methods that became popular during the pandemic, but critics warn the states are seeking to reduce voter access, particularly for Black voters, ushering in a new Jim Crow era for the 21st century.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Trump's claims were rejected by Republican and Democratic election officials in state after state, by U.S. cybersecurity officials and by courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And his attorney general at the time said there was no evidence of fraud that could change the election outcome.

McConnell wasn't the only high-profile figure at Tuesday's hearing.

The legislation was given top billing on the Democratic agenda, but the path ahead is unclear. Moderate members of the Democratic caucus also pose a sizable obstacle to the bill becoming law.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they oppose making changes to the Senate's filibuster rules, which would be needed to maneuver the bill past Republican opposition and pass it with a simple majority in a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris delivering the tiebreaking 51st vote.

Manchin has called for any elections overhaul to be done on a bipartisan basis. Other Democrats want to pare back the bill to core voting protections to try to put Republicans on the spot.

Manchin and Sinema were getting face time with Biden this week, as their votes are vital to passing the president infrastructure plan. Manchin came to the White House on Monday, while Sinema was slated to do so on Tuesday, according to the White House.

House resolution H.R. 1, and its companion, S. 1, in the Senate have been in the works for several years. The legislation would require states to offer 15 days of early voting, require more disclosure from political donors and restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, among other changes. It would also compel states to offer no-excuse absentee voting.

It would force the disclosure of donors to "dark money" political groups, which are a magnet for wealthy interests looking to influence the political process while remaining anonymous.

Democrats have been making their own changes to the bill to draw support.

In the latest version of the legislation, states would have more time and flexibility to put new federal rules in place. Some election officials had complained of unrealistic timelines, increased costs and onerous requirements.

States would have more time to launch same-day voter registration at polling places and to comply with new voting system requirements. They would also be able to apply for an extension if they were unable to meet the deadline for automatic voter registration. Officials have said these are complex processes that require equipment changes or upgrades that will take time.

Democrats are also dropping a requirement that local election offices provide self-sealing envelopes with mail ballots and cover the costs of return postage. They plan to require the U.S. Postal Service to carry mail ballots and ballot request forms free of charge, with the federal government picking up the tab.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), right, and Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) arrive for a Senate Rules Committee hearing at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2021. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo